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May 10, 2013 at 4:39 PM

Video: Dennis Rodman tells TMZ he’s ‘gonna try’ to bring Kenneth Bae back from NKorea

Updated 5:52 p.m.

The Worm could do us all a solid and simmer down some of his rhetoric. His tweet earlier this week in response to our blog post last Friday has garnered some much-needed attention for Kenneth Bae, the Lynnwood man imprisoned there since last November. However, a new video posted on the gossip web site TMZ highlights him cursing President Barack Obama and diminishes from the recent headlines. He has a right to say what he wants and we expect erratic behavior from Rodman. It just sort of pains me to see him treated like a joke while he may be attempting to take on a more serious issue.

In the off-the-cuff interview with Rodman on a Los Angeles sidewalk, the retired NBA player said he plans to go back to North Korea Aug. 1 and bring Bae back. Not sure how long the raw video is, but TMZ cut it down to a few sound bites. It’s a mixed bag of reactions from Rodman, who says he communicates with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “through his people.”

When asked about Bae, Rodman responded, “I’m gonna try to get the guy out… Just did a interview, so hopefully we can talk about that when I get over there… It’s going to be difficult because I think his nationality, his background —  it’s a whole different situation. But like I say, I’m not a diplomat, man.”

Rodman’s certainly not pretending to a politician, and that’s a good thing. But the video shows  he went on to use some choice words during a rant about President Barack Obama’s refusal to negotiate with Kim Jong Un.

Here’s a link to the video.

Really can’t say we expected this kind of reaction after I wrote this post last Friday, which led four days later to these two surprising tweets from Rodman:

If he returns to Pyongyang, will it even work to free Bae, who’s now accused of trying to smuggle “inflammatory literature” across the border? The Washington Post’s Max Fisher brings up an interesting point in his latest blog post:

The good news is that, in the past, North Korea has used detained Americans as leverage for concessions from the U.S., often in the form of a high-profile American visitor, which is great propaganda for the leadership. The bad news is that, famous though Rodman is, he might not be the right kind of famous.

I think Rodman still has some sway. I just hope someone gives him the message quick: No, you don’t have to be a professional diplomat to make a difference.  You earned a place in the NBA Hall of Fame. People still admire you.  But the comments about Obama attract bad attention and divert the public’s focus from Kenneth Bae’s pending 15-year sentence in a North Korean labor camp.

Get back in the game. Define basketball diplomacy. And be careful around those TMZ cameras.

A few thoughts from my colleague Lynne Varner: Rodman does not need to be a professional diplomat to grasp the extreme delicacy of this situation. The snail’s pace of the six-party talks over North Korea’s nuclear program offer testament to how precarious it can be negotiating with the planet’s most isolated regime. If Rodman feels he is being called to duty, in a way he is. He is one of the few Westerners to not only sit down with Kim Jong Un but to be on friendly terms with the North Korean leader. That’s huge!

It will be a delicate dance but Rodman can use his unique relationship to press quietly, but forcefully, for Bae’s release. A complex list of concessions, from food aid to weapons, is likely to be required and that’s something that will be handled at the diplomatic level. But Rodman can grease the skids so to speak.  What he must not do is lose sight of the fact that a man’s life hangs in the balance. This is not an international kerfuffle to titter over with TMZ. This is about trying to save an American from 15 years in a North Korean prison. Celebrities have used their status before. This Slate piece explores Jesse Jackson’s success freeing Americans from Syria, Cuba and other countries where they were being held hostage. Rodman is no Jesse Jackson, but I join Bae’s family and friends in hoping for a miracle.

Comments | Topics: Dennis Rodman, diplomacy, kenneth bae


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